New Delhi: The National Herald founded 70 years ago by India's first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru on Tuesday published its last editorial as it "temporarily suspended" operations.
The Congress party, which finances the paper, is reportedly considering the feasibility of re-launching the newspaper with modern technology. The editorial department of the English edition did not have a computer. The press section had five-six computers and there was one computer in the teleprinter room, which was used by the editorial and advertisement staff to check mails.
Some senior editors brought their own laptops to work. The management had wanted to computerise Quami Awaz four years ago, but the proposal was shot down by the union as around 20 calligraphers would have been displaced.
The National Herald, which was started in Lucknow on September 9, 1938 by Nehru, and its Urdu edition Quami Awaz carried a small message on the front page announcing the closure: "The management of the Associated Journals Ltd has decided to temporarily suspend the publication of National Herald and Quami Awaz, from 1st April 2008. Therefore, there will be no issue dated 2nd April 2008, onward, till further notice."
The paper was running into losses for several years due to overstaffing, mainly non journalists and in the press, and lack of advertisements.
The last editorial, titled "Herald hopes for a better tomorrow", stated, "With its glorious tradition, will National Herald be made to remain only a part of history, or, will it continue to function to herald change and progress in time with the positive basic values for which India has always stood?"
National Herald editor-in-chief T V Venkitachalam is keen that the paper does not become part of history as happened with Mahatma Gandhi's Harijan, which closed down during Gandhi's lifetime.
"The paper is part of Nehru's legacy and has continued to uphold the traditions of secularism and non-alignment and I hope the Congress party will not allow it to close down finally."
Though expected for several months, the announcement of the closure was made only on Monday evening.
On Wednesday, the board of the Associated Journals Ltd, headed by Congress MP and treasurer Motilal Vora, will meet to formally approve the Voluntary Retirement Scheme (VRS) payment for the 265 employees, including about 40 journalists of the English and the Urdu editions.
The first instalment of the around Rs.400 million package will be paid on Wednesday. The package was worked out after discussions between Vora and the employees union.
The VRS will amount to around Rs.1.5 million per person. While the senior staff is reportedly happy as they did not have many years before retirement, for the mid level editorial staff, the closure has come as a blow.
"We have been left at the cross roads now. We are at a stage when do not know where to go at this stage in our career," said a staff member unwilling to disclose his identity.
According to a source in the newspaper, the question of reviving the Quami Awaz and National Herald in Lucknow, which had closed a decade ago, was raised by delegates at the Congress party's Kanpur convention on Sunday.
A few Muslim delegates brought forward a resolution asking that the editions be re-launched in Uttar Pradesh as it would help the party reach out to the minorities with the general elections slated for next year.